Mother-in-law, on the phone: “I’ve decided… I want to be cremated.”
Daughter-in-law: “Great! Get your coat on. I’ll be right over.”
We make jokes about death because it’s such a big, scary unknown, and as humans, we aren’t particularly good with the unknown. And besides, death is a total downer because who wants to meet their end? Not many folks want to die other than sufferers of chronic pain, Walmart employees during Christmastime, and people who get stuck in an elevator with Carrot-Top.
But what if I told you imagining yourself dead, for one moment every day, is good for you?
You know how yoga tones you and makes you more responsive to life?
It’s kinda like that. If you meditate on the image of you dead, just for one fleeting moment each day, you appreciate your life more. It helps you see yourself somewhere in the flow of your life. Picturing yourself dead is an undeniable reminder to live well. Nothing will make you want to travel more than picturing yourself in a coffin. And since it’s such a bummer, if you imagine yourself dead, I strongly advise you to consider the fun side of your death.
You’re probably thinking, “Wait. There’s a fun side of my death?”
When you die, there’s nothing that says you must be dropped in a box, stuck in the ground, and become some earthworm’s lunch. You could say, “Nah, I don’t think so,” to traditions and expectations. Maybe have a plane sky-write your name with your cremated ashes. Go out as graffiti on a blue sky. You have choices. You can have fun with your death.
Have you heard about the afterlife fashion trend of wearing your dead relatives as jewelry? Usually, diamond rings. There’s a company called LifeGem. They’ll transform 8 ounces of your ashes into an artificial diamond. They explicitly request you do not send the deceased to them. They only require 8 ounces of the cremated remains of your dearly departed. If you insist on an old-fashioned burial, they will accept a lock of hair.
You know what that means, right? You can send them a lock of your hair while you’re still alive. You can ice yourself with diamonds made of you. Or design a wedding ring, or anniversary earrings, or whatever. All LifeGem requires is 8 ounces of hair or ashes. Using high heat and pressure, they extract the carbon, process it into graphite, then under extreme pressure the graphite transforms into a perfect crystalline lattice of carbon. Once complete, they send you the actual-factual diamond. And just like that, Grandma’s now a diamond suitable for jewelry.
You can even pick the color of your LifeGem diamond. And this is a rather funny comment on our imperfect human natures. Due to the impurities present in your ashes, the diamonds usually come out slightly flawed, which gives each diamond its unique color and human signature. Nice touch, right? Here’s a testimonial from their website:
As one of our clients said about her husband, “He was perfect, yet certainly not flawless. I wouldn’t expect his LifeGem to be without flaws either.”
That’s so sweet you could stir it into your morning coffee. And just think, becoming iced-out jewelry is just one example of what you could do with your dead body.
As far back into human history as we can remember, we’ve been doing weird things with dead bodies and we still do. Consider the case of the Aghori, a Hindu tribe that makes it home along the Ganges. They are the lowest caste in Indian society, even beneath the Untouchables. They’re cannibals who live as scavengers and outcasts. In India, families generally cremate the dead. However, some families perform funeral ceremonies in the Ganges and send the dead body floating down the river. If the Aghori scavengers can reach it, they’ll fish out the dead body and eat it. They claim it gives them visions. Other Indians refer to them as the Death-eaters. And yes, they most likely inspired J.K. Rowling to use the name.
For centuries, Tibetans have performed “sky burials.” Since the ground is often frozen solid and there aren’t many trees up where they live, it’s a waste of wood to burn a body and impossible to bury it. Instead they chop the dead body up into tiny segments, mash the dearly departed into a consistency most closely resembling beef tar-tar and then feed their dead loved one to the waiting vultures. That’s why it’s called a “sky burial.” When the birds are done snacking on the corpse, they fly away.
Not to be outdone by the Tibetans, the Chinese conduct “ghost marriages.” The tradition protects those who die unmarried. Since folks want the spirit of their dearly departed to enjoy a happy afterlife, the living set the deceased up with someone who was also single when they died. It’s like an afterlife matchmaking service. They either use effigies to represent the deceased or else they dig up the two dead bodies. They dress the dead bride and groom in wedding attire, conduct a ceremony, and even dance with the dead bodies, as much as that is possible. Rather than go on a honeymoon, the newly married husband and wife go back in the ground. And in the afterworld, they have a partner for all eternity. It’s the most romantic answer for what to do with a dead body. Have a wedding.
What do you want to do with your dead body?
Do you really want to be buried in the earth for 140 years or so until your gravesite is paved over and the land re-used? Don’t be the unknown dead dude buried underneath a flying-car parking lot. Have more respect for yourself than that. Celebrate your life.
While you think about it, here are a few ideas to consider:
1. Starting with one of my favorites, there’s a company that will turn your ashes into a snow-globe. That’s pretty awesome. “Okay, kids… just give it a shake and you can watch Grandma swirl around like tiny snowflakes.” The company offers many options. They make all sorts of environments for your memorial snow-globe. If you wanna be snow on the Eiffel Tower, you can be snow on the Eiffel Tower.
2. For those who prefer a less fragile memorial, there are tattoo parlors that will mix your cremated ashes with ink and turn you into a tattoo. You could become a pair of wings on your grieving partner’s back. Or a Celtic memorial ring tattoo’d on your sibling’s finger. Just don’t become some shitty tattoo- make sure to hire a good artist.
3. If you lean towards the sci-fi side of life, if you’re into astrology, astronomy, or just really like the Great Heavens above, there’s a company that will strap your ashes onto a rocket and jettison you into outer space. Dead astronauts do it. You can, too.
4. There was a company that would… are you sitting down? They’d turn your dead body into vitamins, protein shakes and mineral supplement pills. I guess the idea was you could fuel the health of someone close to you for around 90 days, possibly longer. Bad news is their website no longer works. They might have overestimated their customer base.
5. If you’re leaving behind someone young who will miss you dearly, you can have your ashes stuffed into a Teddy Bear. And whenever they miss you they can hold you tight, give you a squeeze, and take your ashes to bed with them.
6. Johhny Depp did a solid for Hunter S. Thompson. He made sure his friend got the send-off he wanted and deserved. After a jubilant affair, Bill Murray, Benicio del Toro, and others watched their old pal, Hunter, get turned into a tremendous fireworks show. A lover of motorcycles, guns and homemade bombs, Hunter went out as a booming ball of fire. Seems fitting. There’s a company that’ll turn you into a fireworks show if you want go out with a bang.
7. Offering a way to re-connect with Nature that’s far more elegant, there’s a company that will embed your ashes into materials used to build a coral reef. That’s a nice default choice for any of you who remain undecided. Imagine telling someone at a dinner party you plan to be turned into a coral reef when you die. It’s a pretty handy ice-breaker for boring dinner parties.
For other interesting options, such as how your dead body might enter the cadaver market for schools, universities, laboratories, or crash test facilities; and other funny stories, check out Mary Roach’s book, Stiff. She handles death with the light humorous touch it deserves.
Death. It’s gonna happen whether you like it or not. It helps if you know you’re going to become a coral reef. Or maybe some bling for your partner to shine. Or maybe you won’t become a thing at all. Instead you might become an experience. Some folks ask their family and friends to take them to Disneyland and scatter their remains on their favorite ride. For instance, you might go out riding Space Mountain one last time. That’s death done right in the Happiest Place on Earth.
Meditating on an image of you dead, and daydreaming about what others will do with your dead body is a fun way to take the piss out of death. It’s a way to laugh in Death’s face, as you imagine what you’ll next be.
I showed a friend the memorial snow-globes. And she loved the idea. She decided her future husband must understand that, after a long and happy married life, once they both die, their ashes will be memorialized together inside a snow-globe with two little mermaids. And for a creepy laugh she wants to leave the snow-globe to her kids as as a joke. You know, so her daughter can display Mom ‘n’ Dad and the mermaids on her mantlepiece. See? Death can even be funny and romantic.
Thinking of death once a day, really does make life sweeter. Just don’t forget to laugh.